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Sunday, 26 August 2012

One Year of Radiating Left Brainwaves


One Year of Radiating Left Brainwaves

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 26 August 2012

Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 2012.  All Rights Reserved.

Please see http://www.leftbrainwave.com for more articles by
Dr. Seshadri Kumar


**********

This weekend, my blog, http://www.leftbrainwave.com, turned a year old.  It has been an exhilarating ride for the past one year – and an exhausting one.  This post is a reflection on a year of blogging and an attempt to thank all of you.

I started writing this blog as a response to the tsunami-like wave of Anna Hazare that swept India last year.  It grew out of a powerful urge to contribute in some way to that anti-corruption movement – no one who was in India last August could have been unmoved by what was happening.  I thought at the time of the things that I could perhaps do for the movement and writing struck me as perhaps the best way, given my past experiences and skills.  I had a very busy and punishing schedule at work and so could not take time to go marching in protests (although I did participate in one candlelit vigil in Pune).  Writing was something I could do in the wee hours or on weekends – easier to squeeze out time on my own timetable.  Also, there are many others who are much better at organizing events, etc., than I am.  I also justified my choice by the old adage that the pen (in this case the keyboard) is mightier than the sword – at least I hope it is.

But there are many people writing on the internet.  If there is one constant about the way I like to do things in life, it is that I don’t want to do what has been done a million times before by others.  There had to be some value addition in what I was writing.  It couldn’t just be something like “I support Anna Hazare.  He’s a great man.  You should also support him.  Blah. Blah. Blah.”  Who’d read that, anyway?

Why leftbrainwave?

So I decided that the USP of my blog would be detailed analysis, extensive research, and clear writing in simple language – and importantly, an attempt to fill in the gaps in the open literature.  The name, leftbrainwave, came because the left side of the brain is considered the logical and analytical side – as opposed to the right, emotional side – so the idea behind the name was that whatever the domain was that I was discussing, I would attempt to provide very clear and logical answers.  Whether I succeed or not is another matter, but one must at least try.  It is staggering to see how many people go through life without ever using reason or logic, and that gave me hope that I could at least be partially successful by trying to think and write logically.

My scientific training came in very handy in the researching bit, and in my attempts to be comprehensive (Think “literature review” in a PhD.)  And that is also the reason why it has been an exhausting journey.  Trying to dot all the i-s and crossing all the t-s is not an easy job – and I still probably don’t cover all the angles, even though I try.  And it is a time-consuming job, so you cannot post something every day or even once a week.  As I have a regular day job to keep, I could only do this on weekends and some evenings when I wasn’t working – both of which often got me into trouble with the family.

Sometimes I had to understand a totally different domain from the ones I had training in, such as law: read a lot of different High Court and Supreme Court rulings, in order to understand what the law truly said about an issue, as in the privilege notices issue against Kiran Bedi and Om Puri that Parliament had considered.  But that is part of the fun – the learning involved in something like that.  One of the benefits of writing a blog like this, which has the objective of separating the wheat from the chaff, is that I first needed to recognize what was wheat and what was chaff – only then could I write about it.

Topics

Bhupathi and Paes in the Olympics

Even though I started writing about the anti-corruption movement, and I still write about it, as in my last article summarizing the decline of Team Anna, I had a lot of different things to write about.  And it was always something that people were strangely not talking about and which seemed obvious to me that they should be – and so I’d write an article when the itch became unbearable.  For instance, before the Olympics, there was so much soap-opera stuff about Bhupathi and Paes not playing together, to the detriment of all the athletes in the other sports, and that simply didn’t stop, so I took it out of my system by writing an article about why I didn’t care even if neither of them played for India in the Olympics.

Misinformation in the Media About Anna Hazare

That sort of itch was what started off this blog in the first place, when I wrote about the misinformation in the media on the Anna agitation.  You had everyone talking nonsense about how Anna’s movement was undemocratic and unconstitutional, when all the poor man was doing was leading quiet, peaceful, nonviolent fasts and candlelit vigils, without even disrupting traffic (I know this is true because I marched in one protest rally and the organizers took extreme care not to disrupt traffic.)  You can listen to that sort of nonsense on the airwaves for one, two, three days, but when nobody in the media thinks it necessary to point out that it is perfectly constitutional to have a nonviolent protest that doesn’t even disrupt traffic (note that no one said anything about the Raj Thackeray protests that shut all of South Mumbai down for a whole day in the last week being undemocratic, etc., etc.), I had to write about it.  You almost feel like if you don’t, the lies become truth.

The danger about the power of the media is that most of the media is controlled by big business, which in turn has a nexus with political parties, so it is hard to get anything through the mainstream media (and that, by the way, is the reason no one will dare criticize Raj Thackeray for shutting down Mumbai and causing millions in economic damage to the city.  Note that I am not commenting about his party’s positions – I just have a problem with double standards in the media).  That is why the internet is a saviour of free thought and free speech, and the independence of the internet must be protected at all costs.  I am grateful for this, for without it I could never get even the few people who read my posts to read them.

The “Misinformation” article is the one that prompted me to put copyright notices on my articles.  For, this being my first article, I was naive enough to send it to people via email because I was concerned about passing on the message to as many people as possible – and then found out that two or three people who I didn’t know had posted the article under their own name (and were accepting congratulations from others for the article.)

Privilege Motions by Parliament Against Bedi and Puri

There was all this talk of filing privilege motions against Kiran Bedi and Om Puri, and most people had no idea what they were.  And neither, for that matter, had I.  So I went around on the internet, voraciously read on this topic, read relevant sections of the Indian constitution, the Rajya Sabha work guidelines, etc., and condensed what I had learnt into a couple of blog articles with the hope that I had at least saved a lot of other people all that work and helped them understand.  As in the other cases, the resultant finding was surprising – it showed that the Government probably did not have such a clear case against Bedi and Puri as the media had made it out to be.

The Anti-India Bias at the New York Times

Then there was the time I was regularly reading the New York Times’ India Ink blogsite – a blogsite on matters in India – and it became clear that many articles were extremely negative about India.  The problem is that the NYT has a big reputation and a lot of people have a great regard for the printed word – they believe whatever is in print must be true – and whatever is printed by the NYT must be true.  So I analyzed a few articles in the NYT that were extremely biased against India – one notably an article by an NRI who tried to come back to India, realized he was an ass, and went back; another by an avid India-baiter who can say nothing good about India ever; and a couple others (you can read my article for details.)  Again, if everyone is silent on this, then people (especially in the West) believe this is the truth. 

So I wrote an article about it, and gave the link to my blog article in the comments to the NYT article – and it got enough attention that when NYT summarized the comments about their article, they specifically mentioned mine, and said “And finally, some felt that by printing the essay, the New York Times showed an anti-Indian bias. The newspaper is “encouraging and promoting op-ed columnists with an India-bashing mentality,” one blogger wrote. (For the record, we here at India Ink love India. That’s why we’re here).”  You can see the NYT post here: http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/29/what-you-thought-about-why-i-left/

Classical Music

One of my passions is classical music, and a couple of articles in the blog are about classical music.  One is a review of a concert by the Carnatic musician, Sanjay Subrahmanyam (one of my favourites), about 6 years ago, that I recently rediscovered when I was searching for my own name on google; another was a reaction to a piece by another well-known Carnatic musician, TM Krishna, in which he was complaining about the standards of Carnatic music performance going down.  Again, I did not see anyone mention what to me was the obvious – that he, as a musician, needs to take a more active role in raising the level of the audience’s understanding of music.  So I had to write that article.

Women’s Education in India

Then there was a topic that I learned about from a friend on facebook, who quoted an article in the Hindu on how a principal in a school near Madurai had expelled two girls and prevented them from joining XI standard after they were married off below the legal age by their parents after they finished their Xth.  Shocking enough as this was, it was even more shocking that an eminent educationist, Dr. Krishna Kumar, a former director of the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) actually defended the principal’s actions.  Again, I saw nothing in the nature of a rejoinder or protest to the article of the professor by anyone else, so I felt compelled to write one.

Bollywood: Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna

And then, of course, there is Hindi film music, which has been a passion all my life.  So many of our great Hindi film icons have died in the last year, and so the articles about Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna came straight from the heart.  Yet, in keeping with the mission of the blog, I tried to be as analytical as possible about their profiles, using fact as much as possible, and the result are two tributes to Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna which, some have commented, could only be written by an engineer.  I could safely and confidently advertise to people (as I did) that “this is unlike any other tribute to Rajesh Khanna you might have seen.”  As someone on twitter responded when she saw my article on Rajesh Khanna: “Omigosh!  An article on Rajesh sahab with bar graphs!  I’m in Bolly-heaven!”

The Rajesh Khanna article also gave me some of the most effusive and heartfelt tributes from people.  One person on twitter told me that the entire Wikipedia page on Rajesh Khanna should be replaced by my blog article!  Another said that tears rolled down her cheeks and, after reading my Dev Anand article as well, said I should have a column in TOI!  I don’t think I’ll ever get appreciation like that writing about Anna Hazare!

You can’t touch Bollywood for popularity.  The Rajesh Khanna article is my highest-grossing article at more than 1700 views, and the Dev Anand article has 425 views and counting.

Criminalization of Indian Politics

I wrote my article on the criminalization of Indian politics after I did some searching to find out whether any website had details on the actual criminal charges against MPs, MLAs, etc. – and I found that there is an organization called the Association of Democratic Reforms, which actually keeps tabs on this.  My only mission in writing this article was to showcase the work they were doing in collecting all this data.  I also asked the organization for their raw data in Excel sheets, and converted their tabular data into graphical form, which made it much easier to understand than their reports.

This article was very well-received – I got a lot of private messages from people telling me they loved the article.  Everyone thinks that the folks in parliament are crooks, but this article tells you just how much that is true.

Plugs for my Lokpal Song

At the height of the Anna agitation of August 2011, I composed a song for the movement based on the tune of “Golmaal hai bhai sab Golmaal hai” from the original Golmaal starring Amol Palekar.  I changed the words to “Lokpal hai bhai Jan Lokpal hai,” created full lyrics for the song, sang and mixed the music for the song, blended the song with images to make a video, and put it up on youtube.  I also created Tamil and Telugu versions of the song (the latter in collaboration with my friend Murali K. Datla). 

To get a few more views, I put the lyrics on the blogsite and announced it a couple of times on facebook.  Hey, nothing wrong with that.  If you don’t promote yourself, who else is going to?  The strange thing about this is that I often met people who would say, “Hey, I saw your posting on facebook about your song.  I listened to it – really enjoyed it – great job man!”  And then I’d ask him, “So did you click “like” on the facebook page or “share” it?”  Blank face.  “Uh ... no.”  Don’t quite understand this.  People often don’t even click like for something they actually like!!  So yes, I am not ashamed of the self-plug – heck, someone has to do it!  In that spirit, one more plug here for it: go to http://www.youtube.com/user/nayakan88 and you can see all the versions!

You can even argue that this whole post is a plug for my website – and you wouldn’t be wrong.  There is nothing wrong with self-promotion, if you are honest about it and don’t lie.  Like I said, who else is going to do it for you?

Articles Written During August 2011

My initial articles were all about Anna’s movement.  At that time I did not have the time to craft long, detailed, and analytical articles (except for the first, "Misinformation" article) – my objective was to write as quickly as possible so that the message could be spread.

But it’s the same itch thing.  I saw this interview of Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal by Karan Thapar one day, and also saw an interview by Karan Thapar of Kapil Sibal.  In the Bhushan-Kejriwal interview he had his knives out for them, interrupted them every time they spoke, tried to put words in their mouth, and was generally rude; in the Sibal interview he behaved like a school child in front of his principal, saying “yes, sir, thank you sir,” and the like, soft-pedalling all his questions, and generally using his program as a platform for Sibal.  It was infuriating.  I had to write an article.

Similarly, I saw an article by Paul Beckett in the Wall Street Journal on the anti-corruption movement in India, in which he was extremely dismissive about the movement.  Again, WSJ is an influential paper, and many people think what they speak is the gospel.  So I had to rebut it.  Tried submitting it to WSJ, they didn’t accept it.  So I put it on my blog.

During the agitation in August 2011, NDTV was extremely anti-Anna.  They kept downplaying the event and said that it was just an urban middle-class movement – said that only Mumbai, Delhi, and Chennai had any action – the rest of the country doesn’t care.  So I went on twitter and gathered statistics on every rally going on in the country and wrote an article on it.  Not sure how many people it reached, but I had to get it out of my system.  As in the other cases, whenever you do research for an article, you learn a whole lot.  I learned that people were marching even in places like Vishakhapatnam, Ghaziabad, Baddi (Himachal Pradesh), Singrauli, and even the famous Srirangam temple near Trichy!

And then there was the article I wrote immediately after seeing Anna released on Tihar Jail on TV.  It was an electric moment.  Couldn’t believe what I was seeing on TV – the crowds, the euphoria – it was special.  Don’t know if I’ll see something like that again in my life.  Had to write about it.

Focus on a Single Topic?

One of my correspondents on twitter asked me why I did not have a single-topic focus for my blog – say, just Bollywood or Politics or such.  He helpfully suggested that maybe that would get me more traffic.  My response to him is that I do have a focus – it is on thinking clearly and logically, on all topics, and using the left side of the brain a little more than people usually do.

Some Statistics

And so, I decided I could not write this article without some analysis either.  The table below shows all the posts I have written on the blog in the last year (23), along with their release dates and the number of views those posts have received so far.  The titles are hyperlinked to the actual articles.


Article Title
Publish Date
Views
23
20/08/2012
423
22
27/07/2012
1701
21
05/07/2012
134
20
01/07/2012
258
19
23/06/2012
103
18
12/02/2012
266
17
11/12/2011
425
16
27/10/2011
657
15
23/10/2011
622
14
20/10/2011
65
13
18/10/2011
248
12
30/09/2011
65
11
19/09/2011
87
10
10/09/2011
235
9
05/09/2011
254
8
27/08/2011
96
7
26/08/2011
88
6
26/08/2011
67
5
26/08/2011
68
4
26/o8/2011
82
3
24/08/2011
110
2
24/08/2011
311
1
23/08/2011
149


Strangely enough, the blogger stats also report the total number of views as 9460, which doesn’t equal the sum of the above numbers.  Regardless, you get an idea of the order of magnitude.  Not mind-blowing, but not bad either, especially considering that I am not writing about cricket or Salman Khan or Katrina Kaif or about C++ programming tips.  The figure below shows the composition of the audience by nationality (top 10 countries only are reported).  Quite surprising for me, and probably for you, too.  

The first two – USA and India, are understandable – my blog is about Indian issues and there are lots of Indians in the US.  I expect USA has more viewers than India because I have more friends in the USA because of having stayed there long.  Thank you all, folks!  But Ukraine as the third!  Wow.  I had no idea when I started this blog that so many people in the Ukraine would be interested in things Indian.  The UK in fourth place is not surprising – there are many Indians there (but not many people that I know personally, unlike in the case of the US).  Thanks again!  As with the Ukraine, Russia is also a surprise for me (So, spassibo to all of you in Russia and Ukraine!  I had a Ukrainian friend in the US who told me that back home in the Ukraine, they didn’t particularly care for Ukrainian – they just use Russian).  I had no idea so many people in Russia would be reading my blog regularly.  And having monitored the traffic, I know that the people from Russia and the Ukraine are a steady audience.  France (merci!) and Germany (danke!) round off Western Europe, and I am again intrigued that I have so many readers from our eastern neighbour, China (xiexie!) – but it is not surprising that they would be interested in events in a neighbouring country.  Canada (thanks once again!), too, is not a surprise, but the real surprise is the presence of Latvia! (paldies!) 

But this is only the top 10.  Blogger doesn’t tell me all the nations in summary – maybe that’s a good thing, for then I’d have to dig out ways to say thank you in a 100 different languages!  As someone who keeps checking on who visits the blog, on a regular basis, I can tell you that I have been really surprised at some of the countries from which my readers originate – Sierra Leone, Mongolia, Venezuela, Rwanda, Angola, Chile, Vietnam, Slovakia, Romania, Slovenia, Uzbekistan, Costa Rica and Senegal are just some of the names that come to mind.  One of the exciting things for me to see every day was where my readers were from.  Thanks to ALL OF YOU so much for your interest!

One key takeaway from all this is that I have even more responsibility about what I write than I originally had.  And that is not something that just I need to mind; anyone who publicly puts something on the internet should be aware that anyone from anywhere might be reading it – so think carefully about what you write.  And not just anywhere, but anytime.  The internet has an elephantine memory – so don’t be surprised, as you blog, if someone remembers something you wrote 5 years ago.

Final Thoughts

It’s been a great, and an interesting experience, to put myself out there, to take whatever I might get – bouquets or brickbats.  Thankfully, it’s been mostly bouquets, but you get the occasional brickbat.  One brickbat was from a person who felt very offended that I, not being a lawyer or having gone to law school, had the temerity to comment on legal matters.  I tried reasoning with him: that it isn’t the formal degree I have that matters but the content of my arguments, but he kept getting stuck on format – told me that I did not know how to structure a legal “prayer,” so I shouldn’t talk about all this.  I finally gave up trying to reason with him.  As I said, that’s the essential problem: that most people are hung up on things other than logic or reason. 

So, clearly, I need to do this for at least one more year.

Sharing thoughts and ideas with not just a national, but a global audience, is very stimulating.  As I said at the very beginning, I am more conscious than ever of the need for internet freedom.  It is very much worth fighting for.  Twenty years ago, if a fellow like me wanted to write, where would he go?  Which newspaper would allow him to write?  And even if I was hired by a newspaper to write anything, they would likely put severe restrictions on what topics I could write about.  Today the internet gives us freedom to write and share, although governments are constantly trying to take that freedom away.

As fun as it has been to write and interact, it’s a tough act to balance.  As much as my wife has been a big support, sometimes even she gets frustrated that I spend so much of the little free time I have on this.  But she’s still supportive – so I continue to write.  Doing this kind of thing teaches you time management like no course ever will.

And finally, as leftbrainwave is one year old, my thanks again to all of you, my readers.  Your constant feedback to me and your help in getting more people to read these articles (hint, hint, click on that “like” button in facebook or share these links with your friends via email, facebook or twitter) is a constant source of help.  An author cannot exist by himself in a vacuum – he needs a readership.  You don’t spend hours and days researching and writing articles just for yourself.  You need feedback.  And I am counting on you to keep me motivated by continuing to visit, to read, and to let me know what you think about what I write!

Thanks for all your support so far!


4 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Kumar! You have truly found the journalist in you. When I saw the title of your last post, "Itna Sannata Kyon", I first thought that the third in your Bollywood series was on A.K.Hangal, who just passed, based on that famous scene from Sholay. However, it was an excellent review of the situation around the movement. Having read your articles last year, I was happy to read the contrarian view as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Avinash!

      You have to write it like it is, not what you'd like it to be. Last August was quite dramatic, and very promising, so my articles were very positive on the movement. But things have gone downhill, and if I didn't recognize it and write about it for what it really is, then I'm not a commentator, I'm just a fan.

      As for AK Hangal, I thought it was really strange that I write an article with that title featuring Hangal's most famous line, and within a week he's no more. Ab to sirf sannata hai. He was one of those constant fixtures in Hindi movies in the 70s and 80s as the father figure. His trademark voice with the quiver is something etched into my brain - "Arre beti, zara dekho idhar kaun aaya hai..." Cannot forget him. Unfortunately he died a poor man. There's a story somewhere behind the films that I think might be very interesting about Hangal, and I might write something about that if I get a chance to talk to his son or someone like that to understand what happened.

      Delete
  2. Way to go Kumar,
    Interesting stats about your viewers.

    Looking forward to your take on the Bedi/Kejriwal split on BJP?
    ;-)

    Rgds
    Rahul

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Rahul!

      Actually I had anticipated this in my article on the decline of Team Anna: http://www.leftbrainwave.com/2012/08/itna-sannata-kyon-hai-why-this-silence.html

      I quote from that piece below; I think that will answer your question.

      "One problem for Kejriwal and co. is that a “party against corruption” is an insufficient description for a political party. As I have already mentioned, a party needs to take position on a variety of issues that affect the country. How will the party of Kejriwal and co. deal with differences amongst their supporters on various issues? Will there be infighting between supporters of the Hindu Right and those in favour of a pro-Muslim policy? Or between supporters and opponents of reservation? The fact is that there can be as many flavours of an “anti-corruption party” as there are political parties – a “non-corrupt Congress,” “non-corrupt BJP,” “non-corrupt BSP” – and so on."

      Delete